The Best Songs Featured on TV

By  |  0 Comments

Television has always been a great medium for exposing viewers to new music. A pivotal scene can become instantly classic when paired with the right song, and it can elicit the right emotions from fans – joy, despair, or even fear. Here, in no particular order, are some of the best songs that have been featured in a TV show.

“Where The Colors Don’t Go” by Sam Phillips on Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girls is first and foremost an offbeat comedy about mothers and daughters, but beneath the surface are commentaries on American privilege. The show became beloved for its underground-leaning soundtrack, especially once Lane decided to pursue her rock dreams. A third of the way through the pilot, “Where The Colors Don’t Go” begins playing as Lorelai realizes the only way to provide her daughter with a private high school education involves asking her wealthy, estranged parents for money. “In a white room / In a white head / In a cobweb of enterprise” sets the tone for the sharp juxtaposition between Lorelai’s small-town bodega life, and the Mayflower mansion she gave up in its stead.

“I Feel Alright” by Steve Earle on The Wire

Every of The Wire‘s five seasons ends with a deep-digging montage showing where relevant characters ended up by season’s end. Creator David Simon used these crucial scenes to drive home his points about corruption and power, and season two’s is particularly powerful. As the Baltimore PD continue to investigate the local drug rings from season one, unionized dock workers are introduced to the mix. Unshockingly for a Simon production, everything goes wrong and your favorite characters end up dead or internally destroyed (whaddup George R.R. Martin!). As “I Feel Alright” plays ironically, out-of-work shoreman Nikki reflects on his less than stellar decisions, and the viewers are left with a profound sense of understanding and emptiness.

“Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family on True Detective

True Detective can be described as ‘creepy.’ I mean, it’s a show about a cult of child killers who live in the swamp. So naturally, its theme song should give one the heebie jeebies, and the Handsome Family’s “Far From Any Road” certainly fits this bill. The minor key finger picking and güiros give it the feel of a Mexican murder ballad, and it features the killer and appropriate line “the poisoned Creole soul.”

“Boom, Boom, Boom” by The Iguanas on Homicide: Life On The Street

Before The Wire, David Simon helped with the creation of another high-quality show documenting the daily lives of Baltimore’s finest. Homicide had less grandiose character webs, but was still just as emotionally impactful. Each show deals with the sisyphean task of keeping a lid on the murder rate. Facetiously, season five’s 11th episode has the department celebrate the new year, only to have the phone immediately alert them to a fresh body.

“Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” by Irma Thomas on Black Mirror

The BBC’s recent sort of Twilight Zone remake generally centers around the dystopian future we’ve set ourselves up for. So it was a jarring treat when “Fifteen Million Merits”, series one’s second episode, featured this classic from the Soul Queen of New Orleans. In the episode, one of the characters tries to change her fate by singing the song on a twisted iteration of American Idol, only to be coerced into pornography.

“Bouncin’ Back (Bumpin’ Me Against The Wall)” by Mystikal on Treme

Hey look, another David Simon show! Treme was Simon’s The Wire follow-up, and in similar fashion, it scrutinized race and class relations in a post-Katrina New Orleans. Main character Davis comes from a wealthy French Quarter family, but (tries to) reject his privilege by moving into the musically storied but poor neighborhood of Treme. When an affluent gay couple moves in next door, he fears gentrification and tries to drive them out by turning this song up to 11.

“Dead Fingers Talking” by Working For A Nuclear Free City on Breaking Bad

One of the best items in Breaking Bad‘s bag of tricks was the cooking montage. Though not detailed enough for an enterprising fan to figure out Walt’s recipe, they still managed to make chemistry interesting. (Sidenote: what if this show was just Vince Gilligan’s attempt at increasing STEM participation?!) Our first glimpse of the scary science game early in season one, when Walt and Jesse ventured to the desert in a ramshackle RV. “Dead Fingers Talking” has a squiggly, grimy vibe that works perfectly for the first of many cooks these star-crossed friends would embark upon.

“Fresh Blood” by Eels on The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

HBO’s supreme new docu-series examines how a wealthy, disturbed man could manage to get away with murder on at least three separate occasions. The Jinx is often, nay, almost always described as Serial for TV, and it’s certainly not afraid to lay on the cliffhangers. As each episode sets up which aspect of these effed-up cases it’s going to focus on, the tension builds until Eels comes to the forefront. The lyrics don’t completely fit – the song seems to be written by a serial killer (“I’m so tired of the same old crud / Sweet baby, I need fresh blood”) whereas Robert Durst seems like a desperate sociopath backed into a corner by the falling dominos of his terrible decisions. Nonetheless, the song is synced perfectly with the surreal images of Durst and his various victims, and it’s chill-inducing every time.

Though originally from Virginia, Kelsey recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a cavalcade of neat degrees. She's written for other sites like Wide Open Country, Half Past, Seeing Trees Music, The Cropper, InfUSion Magazine, and Blurt. Kelsey’s greatest weakness is a large bowl of pho, and though she doesn’t know it yet, her friends will soon host a soup intervention for her. In her spare time she enjoys exploring abandoned buildings, crafting dad-humor puns, collecting vintage key chains, writing long lists that utilize the Oxford comma, and acting like Larry David.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply